Accidents happen, or do they?

November 23

Nathan tucks into a word-salad.

“UNBELIEVABLE SALMON FARM ATTACK!”

“TRAGIC ACCIDENT!”

“100% PURE NEW ZEALAND!”

I first noticed the word-salad issue when I received a late-night message on the Fishing Telegraph.

I understood completely. The Fishing Telegraph is an extremely accurate and efficient form of communication, and it was telling me someone had cut a salmon net in Twizel. Get your gear, kids, chilly bin, it’s go-time! I’ll pick you up at 5am.

Once packed, I decided to double-check my fishing intel on the ‘ole World Wide Web. National media outlets were hot on the scene of the heist, confirming an “unbelievable” act of vandalism!

 

“Unbelievable”? Really? Maybe you should switch to decaf and dial it back a few notches. How about “inconvenient” or, even simpler, “unfortunate”. Saying it’s “unbelievable” that someone cut a salmon net in Twizel is like acting surprised when you find out a guy with a mullet buys beer by the crate (side note, he’s on the suspect list).

Have you ever fished the Twizel Canals? My son has. “Dada, why is it unbelievable? They talk about it all the time.” True. Hang out at the canals with the sun and the beers going down, and chances are you’ll hear Carl, Hamish, Ricky or Jack contemplating the idea.

“I reckon this fishin’ be a helluva lot better if someone swum out and cut that damn net.”

Let’s be clear, you should not do this. It’s dangerous and illegal and you will go to jail. However, is it beyond our comprehension that after a very slow day of fishing and a jelly jar of Wild Turkey that Carl might take a short swim with a knife in his mouth, something he’s been fantasising about since his pirate comic book days?

Revised Twizel headline:

No follow up article needed.

Like “unbelievable”, the word “accident” is thrown around like confetti. But what actually constitutes an accident?

 

Coming around a blind corner near Aoraki / Mount Cook village, with cliffs on both sides, my friend had to lock down all four tires to narrowly miss a couple doing prone holds on the double yellow line. The young man dove into the ditch, leaving his high-heeled girlfriend to stumble out of the way just in the nick of time. Apparently, chivalry and common sense are on the same trend-line.

Would it be an “accident” if my buddy had possum’ed this couple? No. There was a deliberate cause to this event. Actually, there were two:the desire to shoot the perfect picture of one’s self, combined with a low-level understanding of Newton’s first law of motion. Plus, a severe case of dumbassery. We can’t really say it happened by chance, otherwise death on the centreline would affect all of us at the same rate, statistically- speaking. I can confidently say there is a zero percent chance I will get run over while lying down in the middle of a highway to take a selfie. I’m much more likely to die in a tragic fly-fishing, mud bog or deep-fried turkey accident.

Speaking of dumbassery, as a young delinquent I had an “accident” that involved several hillbillies blasting me, my twin brother, and our 14-year-old getaway driver with 12-gauge shotguns. (I’m from Georgia. My childhood was a cross between Stand by Me and The Dukes of Hazzard). Did this happen without apparent cause? Of course not, we were stealing watermelons in front of a rusted, single-wide trailer in the rural south of the USA – a gunfight was inevitable. But the newspapers the next day were nice enough to print “accident” to forgo my mother any further embarrassment.

Here in the adventure capital of the world, the word “accident” is often paired silently with gravity, as “hang glider being towed by Cessna accident” (shoutout to Cromwell). But, by their very design, some adventure activities are, deliberately, death-defying. That’s the thrill.

I’ve been having a three-year argument with my skydiving friend about statistics and “accidents” (I’m not great at parties). He insists that, with each jump, he becomes safer and safer as he becomes more experienced, and I insist that, with each jump, he increases the odds of terminal velocity. I’m what could best be described as a lily-livered coward, and it goes without saying Dave knows more about gravity, and abs, than I do. But in terms of statistics my closing argument is: There’s a zero percent chance of my wimpy ass having a falling- from-a-great-height “accident” – I never leave the ground.

Then there’s “100% Pure New Zealand”.

 

For starters, it’s either pure or impure, there is no in-between. So why the “100%”? What would you think if your partner told you they “100% did not poison your coffee”? You’d be suspicious.

The thing is, jet ride around the world aside, a
lot of tourism activities adulterate the very thing the tourists are paying to see. On my most recent trip to Queenstown, the “100% Pure” capital of New Zealand, I had to sit through 30 minutes of looped “pure” tourism videos. I took a tally: 19 of the 20 videos involved burning fossil fuels for entertainment, an odd business model considering Queenstown is not exactly Dubai. Jet boats, jet skis, airplanes, skidoos, RVs, motorbikes, quad bikes, 4×4 utes, race cars, submarines and, my personal favourite, a helicopter that drops you off on top of a glacier where you can witness climate change firsthand while choking on both fumes and irony.

 

 

Might I suggest a new more accurate and honest slogan: “100% Kinda Pure New Zealand” or how about one of these: 100% Pure-ish, Partially Pure, Almost Pure or Somewhat Pure.

My point? Language matters. Whether it’s in the media, in marketing, or in the way we talk about our own actions, let’s choose our words carefully. Continuing to molest the Queen’s English with word-salad gibberish like “accident”, “pure” and “unbelievable” just makes us feel better about our own behaviour, so we don’t have to change it. And we probably should.

Or, as Carl once told me, sharpening the blade of his knife, progress is like catching fish, it doesn’t just happen by accident.

NATHAN WEATHINGTON


Join us…

Delivering a unique reading experience, 1964: mountain culture / aotearoa works with more than thirty artists, including photographers, writers, woodworkers, welders, creatives and makers for each issue. We advocate for and support Aotearoa’s artists.